Thursday, March 9, 2017

Highway 59 Project Delayed to 2019

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While the state cuts its budget and with more budget cuts possibly in the future, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) has delayed the widening of U.S. Highway 59 north of Sallisaw to 2019.

ODOT plans are to extend U.S. Highway 59 north, from Cherokee in Sallisaw north for three and a half miles, to State Highway 101. The project is expected to cost $11.5 million. ODOT officials said the truck traffic and other traffic was a heavy load on the road, and the expansion would include widened lanes and a turn lane for a portion of the expansion, which would decrease bottlenecks and would be safer for traffic.

But other projects loom and ODOT must work with a decreasing budget, which is delaying the U.S. Highway 59 construction.

Cody Boyd, ODOT spokesman, said Wednesday that ODOT sustained a $367 million budget cut last year, and had to sell $200 million in 15-year bonds to make up the deficit. ODOT faces another budget cut now, and still must pay off those bonds, Boyd said.

Any more budget cuts may cancel the highway project completely. It is expected the state may have to cut the state budget by another 15 percent this year. Boyd said many more budget cuts means ODOT “will not be able to maintain the eight-year plan.” The Highway 59 project is part of the eight-year plan for the future.

“It’s wait and see right now with the Legislature,” Boyd said.

He explained ODOT’s primary focus right now is on the state’s deteriorating bridges. ODOT is expected to begin work soon on Sallisaw’s Delaware Street bridge over Interstate 40. That project is be paid for by the state with Federal funds.

Sallisaw officials are concerned about the Highway 59 project because the city is expected to bear the cost of relocating the electric and telecommunication lines, at a cost of about $700,000. The project has already been delayed because the city argues there is no money for that relocation. Boyd and City Manager Clayton Lucas confirmed that ODOT and Sallisaw are negotiating on a plan to finance the relocation. The city is asking ODOT for a low-cost loan to move the utilities.

The project was originally scheduled to go to bid in June 2016 but was delayed so the city could make arrangements to pay for the utility relocation.

ODOT is to pay $2 million to relocate the water and sewer systems.

Boyd said ODOT will continue with the U.S. Highway 59 project plans as scheduled, unless the money runs out.

The flower beds in front of the Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce office at Cherokee and Wheeler Street and the chamber’s community calendar sign on the opposite side of Wheeler have already been removed.

Boyd explained removing the flower beds and sign were part of the right-of-way clearing process.

“In year one we clear the right of way, in year two its utilities and in year three its construction,” he said.

Several rights-of-way still have to be confirmed, he said.

Boyd said, “For the right-of-way for the U.S. 59 project, ODOT acquired a total of 100 parcels, a majority of which were acquired through negotiation with the landowners. Eleven parcels, owned by eight property owners, went to condemnation. We anticipate completion of all right-of-way acquisition by the end of April.”

Boyd concluded, “It’s important to try to keep this project on schedule as much as we can.”

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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